Basics: Backcountry Safety - Ski Union

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Basics: Backcountry Safety

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that the lure of fresh pristine powder and backcountry kickers comes hand in hand with the stark danger of an avalanche. This becomes a very real danger when you look at the stats, for example in the last month alone there have been six fatalities in the US caused by avalanches – a fairly gloomy statistic. But while you can’t rule out the risks 100%, there are definitely steps that you can take to ensure that the risks are reduced.

Stats show that in the event of a victim being buried in an avalanche, their chances of survival are significantly increased if they are found and uncovered within 15 minutes. If you’ve ventured off the beaten track, then obviously it can take far longer than this window of opportunity for the search and rescue team to reach the scene, which further highlights just how important it is that you equip yourselves with some avalanche rescue knowledge and equipment.


By investing in a decent shovel, probe and transceiver it could go a long way in increasing the chances of saving not just your life, but maybe one of your riding mates life too. Research show that having all three of these items makes this 15 minute window possible, but as you can see below, having just one or two of these items can significantly hinders success:

Only a transceiver – 60 plus minutes

A transceiver and a shovel – 26 minutes

Transceiver and probe – 50 minutes

Transceiver, shovel and probe – 16 minutes

I’m sure you get the picture…


One point on transceivers, is make sure you learn how to use it! You often hear of people confidently stepping out into the backcountry with the safe knowledge that they’re wearing a transceiver should something go wrong, but when reality hits, either themselves or their party don’t actually know how to use a transceiver. So swat up on those instructions, or better still, give it a practice in a safe environment. Some other vital tips in general when heading off the beaten track is to firstly always have at least one other rider with you if you’re going to head off piste and always tell someone where you’re going so they can raise the alarm should you not return. Always make sure that you’re aware of the avalanche risks in the area that you’re heading to and and keep an eye on weather patterns and changes.

If you do find yourself in an avalanche situation here are a few pointers to remember:

  • Watch the victim to try and track their path
  • Make sure the risk has passed before entering the avalanche zone
  • Scan the snow for any signs of the victim
  • Use your transceiver to search using the receive mode and search for a signal
  • Listen for any cries for help
  • Probe any areas where the victim could be
  • Shovel as quickly as possible as time really is of the essence
  • Uncover the victims head first

If you’re still not convinced of the dangers of the backcountry, then check out this avalanche montage, which might just convince you to invest in some gear!


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